Albanian Ex-Interior Minister to Stand Drug Trafficking Trial

An Albanian court decided that the former minister of interior will have to remain under house arrest and face trial on charges of drug trafficking and corruption, Reuters reported Saturday.

Tahiri PSSaimir Tahiri (From October, Albania’s Prosecutors Office requested parliament to lift immunity of Saimir Tahiri, the country’s former interior minister, to investigate his role in an organized crime group that trafficked cannabis and to take him into custody.

The Socialist Party majority rejected the request, saying that it was baseless and politically motivated.

 Italian police had released wiretapped phone calls of a distant relative to Tahiri, Moisi Habilaj who was arrested together with Florian Habilaj for suspicion of having trafficked about 3.5 tons of cannabis over four years.

 In the recordings, Habilaj said that Tahiri made a lot of money from drug payments and that he functioned as the crime group’s inside man.

 In 2015, a former police officer claimed that Tahiri had ordered his arrest as he was investigating the Habilaj gang. The officer said Tahiri had given his car to relatives so they could avoid police checks.

 The former minister has denied the charges and said that the only mistake he made was selling his car to distant cousins with his uncle serving as an intermediary.

 “As a simple citizen, relying on the power of my innocence, family, friends and all those who believe in me, I shall face the prosecutors and the court, as I shall deal with the clowns who fleeced the people,” he said, referring to his political rivals.

 Tahiri waived his immunity and stepped down as an MP 11 days ago after the Albanian government was pressed by the EU to tackle corruption and crime. He said he wishes to face justice as a common member of the public, Balkan Insight reported.

 On May 9, Besim Hajdarmataj, the head of the Serious Crime Prosecution Office who was working on the case against Tahini, was fired by the temporary general prosecutor.

 Hajdartmataj told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network that he did not know why he was fired but expected to keep working on the case, be it as a lower-rank prosecutor.

 Tahini cracked down on cannabis growing and trafficking in 2014 through a huge operation in the town of Lazarat, which is known as Europe’s cannabis capital.

 In 2015 and 2016, Tahiri’s claims that police had cut down more cannabis plants than ever rang hollow as it spread throughout the country and shipments of up to a ton ended up on Italy’s Adriatic Sea coast.

 During his time as a minister, Tahiri was famous for PR stunts, using his own camera crew and choreographing police parades.